Talking teamwork

Talking teamwork

Taming my inner lone wolf

I never was much of a team-worker – or even a team player. Even when I was young, my sister and I couldn’t do anything together. Arguments always broke out because she wouldn’t play “properly” (in other words, my way). Of course, I had every reason for thinking my way was the only right way to do things. Whenever I played with my father he would always show me the way everything should be done, and he couldn’t be wrong, could he?

At school I also remained a bit of a loner. I had friends, but I always felt I was on the outside of the main group. I found cooperative working very difficult. It was so much easier to do things on my own, because there was no-one to disagree with me and no need to convince anyone of anything. So I never got involved in clubs or associations. Just the thought of the emotional effort I would have to make to persuade everyone to do it “right” way was off-putting. What if they didn’t? I’d have no choice but to leave? Wasn’t it easier not to bother in the first place?

It’s hardly surprising, then, that I should have ended up working on my own, as a freelancer. That hasn’t always been the case, though. In my previous working life in newspapers I did sometimes have to work in teams. Now and then it didn’t go too badly, but my ultimate response to finding I was working for “idiots” was to try to become a boss myself. In my blissful ignorance of the pressures and difficulties involved, I thought I would easily be able to run things better than the bosses I’d had. At least I can say I tried, but swapping the journalistic writing I really enjoyed for the grubby lower rungs of the management ladder was one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. In the end it was almost a relief when an unsympathetic editor decided he didn’t like my face and sacked me.

So, after some big changes in my life, I found myself in a new career: translation. At least I wasn’t going to have to work with other people here, was I? Of course, I was speaking far too soon. A few years on and most of the things I’m doing involve cooperation. At the moment I’m working on a book translation with one colleague, while preparing to give a series of workshops and presentations with two more. I also have some of my translations edited and revised, which is a form of cooperation requiring a great deal of trust and understanding.

My character hasn’t changed, but I have learned a bit about how to cope with working alongside other people, and that’s what I want to share in this post. So here are ten tips for making a joint project work:

  1. Be clear. This almost goes without saying. You and your colleagues must understand what you are trying to achieve and who is responsible for doing what in order to achieve it. If you’re not clear about that from the start, talk about it.
  2. Volunteer. Spot tasks that need doing and don’t hesitate to pick up your share of them.
  3. Be humble. However tempting it is to think you are, you’re not always right. There is plenty to learn from other people, especially colleagues.
  4. Listen. Sometimes it’s too easy to go on the defensive if someone appears not to go along with you. But that automatic reaction means you might not be getting the right message. If you listen properly, you may find they are not being as critical as it seems. They might even be saying something you’ll find useful or interesting.
  5. Be assertive. Working with someone else isn’t about you having it all your own way, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up on your ideas. If you need to say something, say it.
  6. Pick your battles. This is the tricky bit. It means realising when you can’t possibly win an argument, or when something isn’t worth arguing about, and simply letting it go. If you’re not turning every little disagreement into a major row, you’re more likely to be taken seriously when it really is necessary to take a stand.
  7. Be nice. Even if you disagree, it doesn’t have to mean a row. There must be some points in common you can find, even if it’s just that you both want the joint project to be a success.
  8. Focus. Discussions, disagreements and other distractions can put you off what you are supposed to be doing. Don’t be afraid to say so and bring attention back to what you are trying to achieve.
  9. Be generous. Don’t hesitate to give credit and thanks to your colleagues for what they have done. You’d want them to do the same for you, wouldn’t you?
  10. Be realistic. Some people really are incompatible and simply don’t get on. If you’ve given a relationship a chance and this genuinely is the case, then admitting it and moving on is a better option than suffering all kinds of mental stress.

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